Making the curriculum choice
Often the number one question new homeschoolers ask when wanting to start, is this: “What curriculum should I use?”. The irony is that often that the answer they receive will be, at best, less-than-clear and likely will bring more confusion than clarity! In this article we will be exploring ‘making the curriculum choice’ in more depth to encourage new homeschoolers: don't be afraid to experiment!
A better place to start for a new homeschooler is to start at the first important step (Step 1 of the 7-Step eclectic homeschooling process I outline in detail here) by asking “What is my vision for homeschooling? What do I want to achieve?” Part of your vision will include what your worldview and faith reflects, and what values and beliefs you would like your children to learn. These will definitely aid in excluding some curricula that do not support these values.
It is also wise to understand different approaches to homeschooling (as described in Step 2). If considering a literature based approach, you do not even have to consider textbooks for example, and you can feel free to ignore everything that falls outside of your chosen approach to homeschooling.
Thereafter, thinking about your Course of Study (Step 3) will also help you better investigate before deciding on the curriculum for your homeschooling setup (Step 4). The course of study will help you define the scope of ‘subjects’ or learning areas you would like your child to learn about. This will again help you exclude/include curriculums for consideration in making your decision.
The important thing to understand is that there is no such thing as choosing the perfect curriculum for homeschooling your whole family for all of their school years. Yet many do not believe this yet. We attend workshops, visit the products at the booths, converse with the vendors, and envision locating the ultimate treasure — the perfect curriculum. But curriculum choices are best made as year-to-year decisions taking a few factors into account. A new homeschooler will often feel that they have no idea how to get info on curricula, but as one researches, explores, discusses, investigates and keeps their eyes open, you’ll discover that there is so much information out there that it can be overwhelming! Although it is wonderful to have so many resources available (books, unit studies, textbooks, workbooks, supplemental DVDs and audio files, literature studies, science kits etc), it can be a daunting task to go about making a decision on what is right for your family. Even experienced homeschoolers can get bogged down looking at new, exciting products thinking that something else is better than what they're currently using!
Need help making a curriculum decision? Check out the Curricula Directory right here on The Homeschool Hub website to get a quick overview of many of the top curricula available here in South Africa.
The important thing to understand is that there is no such thing as choosing the perfect curriculum for homeschooling your whole family for all of their school years.
If you have put thought into your vision, understand different approaches to home education and determined a course of study, then some factors to consider when making homeschooling curriculum choices include:
- Past success: Part of continuous improvement is to evaluate the past and think about what has worked well. Think about the past year and use what has worked again the following year – you don’t always need to change everything, every year.
- Finances: Your financial situation is, of course, a big consideration in your homeschooling plans. Creating a realistic budget is important! Doing your homework and not eliminating an item simply due to cost is key to being wise in curriculum choices.
- Time available: How much time will you have available for your child(ren) and how much time do they have available? There are different seasons in life which can impact on the practical real time you have. Allow room for any major life seasons you are in – pregnancy, small children, illness, new projects, starting a business, building projects, new ventures and ministry can all affect the real time available for home education.
The most important thing about time is the fact that you are the one who will need to be there emotionally and physically to cheer your child on, to listen, share, encourage, and hold your child accountable to your home standards.
- What focus is needed: Often we think that the academic subjects are the most important, but what if your 12-year-old always ignores the assignments he has to do... then maybe a season of character training and discipline can be considered as more important to focus on. Or what if there is constant fighting amongst siblings, such that very little work gets done; it makes sense that communication and relationship building need to get attention for a while instead of just academics. Within academics though, some subjects need more focus in certain years than others, and you are the best one to judge which need focus for a next period.
Hilary Lynch from http://www.home-school-curriculum-advisor.com also states the following interesting perspective to also bear in mind when considering curricula: “What character issues do you want the curriculum to help instil in your child? Perseverance in finishing what he started? Self-discipline? Perhaps creative problem solving skills? Or would you rather not make an issue of finishing the assignment if he can learn the math facts in some other way? In addition to whatever stated learning objectives a curriculum has (such as reinforcing the multiplication tables), there are also underlying objectives related to what character qualities your child is learning in using this curriculum. What character qualities does this curriculum promote or enhance? Creativity? Self-discipline? Self-confidence? Time management? Knowing what character qualities you want your child to learn while using a certain homeschool curriculum will help you make choices that will really work, day in and day out, in your home school.”
- Structure needed: For some people it is easier to just know how to plan a day, a week, a quarter etc. Some find this difficult and they will find prepared lesson plans a good source of support. When looking at curricula, investigate the support and assistance offered. Know your needs and research accordingly.
- Research: Read reviews, curriculum websites, product comparisons, sample pages etc. Search for items you’re interested in, but remember to search by subject as well. Sometimes the new-to-you product may be just what’s needed, and you will find that out in a product review.
- Involve the kids: Whenever children have some kind of input into their own education, there seems to be more enthusiasm. Allow them choices, if that’s an option, as their ages allow.
Even though these 7 factors may help you when choosing curricula, remember that curricula can also be adapted to suit your needs. Sometimes you have to make the best of what you can get, do not be afraid to supplement where there is something short, or ignore/skip where there is more than needed.
Lastly, remember that change is not only possible, but necessary. As the 7-Step process to homeschool improvement shows in Step 7, adapting and changing is a normal part of homeschooling. It is however not advisable to change curricula too often and within too short a space of time.
In summary, when having to make a decision on curricula, ask yourself these 12 questions:
- Do I have peace about this product?
- Does this product support our vision, values, beliefs and worldview?
- Does this product fit the homeschooling approach I am comfortable with?
- Will this product teach any (or all) of the desired Courses of Study I envision for my child(ren)?
- Has this product worked in the past, or with anyone else I know? Why or why not?
- Can I afford this product financially? Why or why not?
- Can I afford this product time-wise? Why or why not?
- Will this product be supporting the focus I would want in some subject are or other issue needing attention?
- Does this product have a structure I am comfortable with?
- Have I done research on the product?
- Have I involved the kids and listened to their input (age-dependent of course)?
- Will this product need adaptation or supplements?
So in your search for the ‘perfect curriculum’ for now, keep in mind that you are the right parent for your children and you will ‘know’ whether something works or not. Do not be afraid to try, experiment, adapt and change curricula as you continue on this wonderful home education journey!
This article was contributed by Willemien Kruger.
We've conducted several interviews with Willemien on our podcast! Find them on our THH Radio page.
You can find more articles like this here: www.homeschooling-curriculum-guide.com